This year the Presbyterian Historical Society is marking Reformation Sunday with a work of lamentation and renewal: “The Plague Song” of Ulrich Zwingli.
Reformation Sunday, on October 25, is a day for the whole church to commit to continuous discernment of how to meet the social justice, economic, and spiritual challenges of the pandemic.
Zwingli’s “Plague Song” shows Presbyterians beleaguered by COVID-19 how the famous Reformer’s spiritual commitment deepened following his bout with the bubonic plague, which killed between a quarter to half of the residents of his home city, Zurich.
Only Martin Luther and John Calvin are more closely associated with the Reformation than Ulrich Zwingli.
But early in his ministry, while serving as the people’s priest at Zurich’s Groosmünster church, he fell ill with the plague. In the months linking 1519 and 1520, Zwingli struggled to shake the disease before finally recovering.
His song speaks to his acceptance of divine providence (“Do what Thou wilt; Me nothing lacks. Thy vessel am I; To make or break altogether”) and promises a future of faithful acts (“Then my lips must Thy praise and teaching Bespeak more Than ever before, However it may go”). His words inspired so many they were adapted for inclusion in many 16th and 17th century hymnals.
In addition to the story of “The Plague Song,” PHS is sharing an English translation of the text as a part of its Reformation Sunday church bulletin insert, with the hope that PC(USA) worshiping communities will read Zwingli’s words for themselves.
His example reminds us that the Reformation did not occur despite personal and communal tribulation. It was shaped by hard times.
Find out more about Reformation Sunday at www.history.pcusa.org/rs.